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What Is Addiction Transference?

by Landmark Recovery

July 31, 2020
A woman reading about addiction transference


Addiction transference is a phenomenon involving dependence on more than one addictive substance.


While the term might be relatively new, clinical practices and recovery centers worldwide have witnessed cross-addiction for decades.


As well as addiction to drugs and alcohol, the American Society of Addiction and Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as including “process addictions”. This broader view of addiction also includes compulsive behaviors like gambling, working, and having sex when carried out excessively.


Today, then, we’ll be exploring how and why people replace one addiction with another, despite often damaging consequences.


Understanding Addiction Transference

A woman reading about addiction transference

Addiction transference is also commonly called cross-addiction or addiction interaction disorder.


Unlike dual addiction, cross addictions don’t happen simultaneously. On the contrary, one addiction triggers another.


For example, you could be in recovery from addiction to opioid painkillers. Throughout your ongoing recovery, you could start drinking too much or engaging in other compulsive behaviors.


Another example involves someone recovering from alcohol use disorder who is injured and undergoes surgery. Prescribed opioid painkillers, they develop an addiction to these powerful pills.


So, addiction transference occurs when one addiction is substituted for another, whatever the reason.


Contrast this with someone exhibiting dual addictions, the classic heavy drinker propped up at a bar chain-smoking cigarettes.

How Common Is Cross-Addiction

It’s tough to find much hard data regarding the number of Americans struggling with cross-addiction.


As a baseline, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health points to 20 million over-12s in the US addicted to alcohol or drugs.


When considering addiction transference, though, it’s important also to include the millions of Americans addicted to gambling and other process addictions. A process addiction, unlike a substance addiction, does not involve drugs.


Broadly, then, we’re looking at tens of millions of Americans with addictions of some form. It can be reasonably assumed that perhaps 75% of these people have the propensity to develop a cross-addiction. This likely percentage of people susceptible to cross-addiction is drawn from a handful of small studies into addiction transference. Much more research in this area is required, though.


OK, you should now be clear on what addiction transference is – replacing one addiction with another – and how it differs from dual addiction. You should also be aware that cross-addiction is by no means rare.


What causes addiction transference, though?


Causes Of Addiction Transference

Myriad reasons can underpin addiction transference. Most are accidental.


Sometimes, it’s a lack of understanding that causes cross-addiction. Maybe you developed a drinking problem, recognized this, and underwent recovery. Maybe you then took opioids prescribed by your doctor following an auto accident. Unaware you might also be likely to develop an addiction to opioids, highly dependence-forming painkillers, you end up with a cross-addiction instead of less pain.


Unresolved mental health issues can also trigger addiction transference. Imagine experiencing some form of massive trauma. A few drinks initially help to dull your pain. Over time, though, you depend increasingly on drinking until you develop alcohol use disorder.


Similarly, many people successfully recovering from drugs or alcohol frequently start engaging in risky sex or gambling, both ways to activate a reward system starved of its usual influx of alcohol or drugs. Again, this results in addiction transference.


If you have a problem with a substance, don’t start panicking that you will develop a secondary addiction. While it has been hypothesized that some people have an addictive personality, most addiction experts now agree that there’s no meaningful data to prop up the idea some people are simply more prone to addictive behavior.


Ultimately, what causes addiction transference is not as important as how it can be treated.


And that’s where the good news comes in if you’re suffering from cross-addiction. It can be successfully treated as long as you take action.

What’s The Best Treatment

A stethoscope used by a doctor who helps individuals with addiction transference

Anyone struggling with addiction transference should strongly consider treatment at a residential rehab center.


It’s wise to include a 12-step program as part of treatment. You’ll find many support groups catering to cross-addiction.


Any solid treatment program will also explore and address underlying health issues. Any co-occurring mental health disorder needs clearing up.


Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be invaluable in some cases.


The best way to avoid cross-addiction is to educate yourself as fully as possible about all facets of addiction if you’re struggling with drink, drugs, or any process addiction. Knowledge is power.


What To Do Next

If you’re concerned about addiction transference and you want to take action, get in touch with the friendly team at Landmark Recovery.


Whether you need medically-assisted detox and residential rehab, or you would be more comfortable with an intensive outpatient program, get back on track today. Call us at 888-448-0302.


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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.